Discover Outstanding Outboard Engines
Only a few years ago those buying outboard engines for boats longer than 20 feet had basically one choice: the conventional 2-stroke. Notwithstanding Honda's lineup of smaller 4-stroke engines, your basic decision boiled down to color: black (Mercury), white (Johnson), blue (Evinrude), or gray (Yamaha or Suzuki). Nowadays, no matter what boat you have, you can find the perfect engine. You may even have a hard time choosing — every manufacturer produces clean-burning, fuel-efficient 2-stroke engines and 4-stroke engines capable of handling a wide range of activities. Your decision now relies on more than color alone.
Consider different strokes for different boats
Those who think 2-stroke engines are being phased out for environmental reasons are way off. Thanks to stricter EPA and California Air Resource Board (CARB) rules, manufacturers now produce simple, efficient 2-stroke engines that produce fewer emissions and offer better fuel economy than older models. For example, Evinrude E-TEC and Mercury OptiMax engines are rated three stars by CARB as low-emissions engines and already meet CARB — stricter than EPA — 2008 regulations. Two-stroke engines also continue to become more bulletproof (as evidenced by warranties that rival 4-strokes) and are far quieter than conventional 2-strokes, in some cases coming very close to 4-stroke noise levels.
Evinrude E-TEC 2-stroke engines: Evinrude E-TEC outboards, the newest direct-injected 2-strokes, have no scheduled maintenance for three years of normal recreational use, extremely low amounts of carbon monoxide, and have an outstanding power-to-weight ratio. They make a great choice for almost all types of boats including weight-sensitive flats boats, bass boats, and older fishing boats built before 4-strokes became available.
Mercury OptiMax 2-stroke engines: Mercury’s OptiMax direct-injected 2-stroke lineup, which ranges from the 300XS all the way down to a 75-hp model, continues to be a favorite with the fishing and skiing crowd because of its great fuel economy and fat power band. The Mercury OptiMax 2-stroke is very popular with owners of flats and bass boats because of its superior acceleration and light weight. OptiMax engines use the Orbital injection system that is also found on Tohatsu/Nissan TLDI models ranging from 40- to 115 hp.
Yamaha HPDI 2-stroke engines: Yamaha HPDI, a line of direct-injected 2-strokes, puts fuel under an unprecedented 1,000 PSI of pressure in order to create an ultra-fine mist of fuel for a more complete combustion on larger 3.3L models. The largest HPDI is the 300-hp model, and this engine is powerful enough for mid-sized offshore boats to use a single engine instead of more costly twins.
Ironically, one of the latest revolutions in outboards is the (re)emergence of the 4-stroke engine (the first 4-stroke outboard was built in 1896 and several versions were introduced in the 1960's and 1970's). Four-stroke engines have a design known for reliability, fuel economy, and quietude — three pretty good qualities in an outboard. Older models are heavier than 2-stroke engines and lack the same punch. However, new models use some high-tech innovations for improved engine performance that rivals 2-strokes. One of the most wide-spread upgrades is to the fuel-delivery system, and many models now sport electronic fuel injection (EFI) rather than carburetion.
Honda 4-stroke engines: Honda boasts an all-4-stroke lineup (it's never had a 2-stroke), uses EFI for models larger than 90 hp, and features V-TEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control), an innovation gleaned from the Formula One racing circuit on selected larger models. This system, available on the flagship BF225 and new BF150, changes the valve timing at 4,500 rpm, which allows intake valves to stay open longer and permit more fuel to enter the combustion chamber, resulting in an engine that gives you good low-end performance and a real kick at top end. These Honda 4-stroke engines are perfect for those who like to run hard and fast, whether to cover more fishing areas or make it back to the dock with a tournament-winning fish.
Mercury 4-stroke engines: Any concerns as to whether a 4-stroke can offer blistering performance has been quashed by Mercury’s Verado line of 4-strokes, ranging from 200- to 275 hp. Using a supercharger, which doesn’t require the engine to spool up to deliver boost like a turbocharger, the Verado outboards give you a blast of acceleration at any rpm range unlike any other. This is great news for those with oversized outboard-powered saltwater fishing boats growing in popularity with the offshore crowd. Larger flats boats and bigger bass boats can take advantage of the Verado’s stealthy sound signature and still get the kick in the seat of the pants they need for getting out of the hole quickly.
Suzuki 4-stroke engines: Suzuki expanded its all-4-stroke lineup to include multi-point EFI to engines ranging from its powerhouse DF300 all the way down to its 40/50-hp models. Suzuki 4-stroke engines are well-suited for a wide variety of applications from inshore and offshore fishing boats all the way to pontoons.
Yamaha 4-stroke engines: In model year 2002 Yamaha introduced the F225 4-stroke, shattering the 2-stroke engine stranglehold on the offshore fishing market. Anglers quickly saw the benefits of four-cycles, especially when trolling. Four-strokes can motor along at 1,000 rpm all day without fouling plugs, offer superior fuel economy, operate in virtual silence, and don't produce gagging exhaust fumes, which always cause a problem when fishing downwind. The saltwater-fishing crowd is happy with Yamaha 4-stroke power up to 250 hp. Freshwater anglers with smaller boats like a new innovation called Variable Trolling Speed (VTS) that allows those with Yamaha 4-stokes from 50- to 90 hp to adjust their trolling speed in increments of 50 rpm. VTS gives you the ability to back troll with total precision, whether it’s to hold your boat steady over a hot spot in the wind or current, or slowly work a contour.
Get to know what’s new in sterndrives
Recent innovations in sterndrive technology make the I/O engine even more user-friendly.
Volvo-Penta boat engines: Volvo-Penta's new Ocean Series composite outdrive system fights corrosion and has greater impact resistance. Ocean Series is especially built for those sterndrives that see duty in harsh saltwater environments. They’re even available with a pair of the X-Series composite props. Instead of a traditional aluminum outer housing, Volvo-Penta uses a vinyl ester compound impervious to the ravages of saltwater. It also uses a high-tech bonding agent that's a two-part epoxy, in effect making the two housing halves one piece (other outdrive systems bolt parts together, creating a potential path for water intrusion). As an added bonus, Ocean Series weighs 20% less than a conventional drive, has 30 percent fewer parts, and is less expensive to build.
MerCruiser boat engines: Conventional, budget-friendly carbureted sterndrive motors are known for their cranky cold starting. Owners often have to cajole the choke in an exact manner to get it to fire up, and when it does catch, they have to skillfully work the choke to get it to idle. MerCruiser uses turn-key-starting (TKS) to give inexpensive carbureted units the same easy start characteristics of EFI models. MerCruiser also has a new clutch design on its Alpha and Bravo outdrives for silky smooth shifting rivaling electronic shifters in ease of use. Tests show that the new system reduces NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) by 70- to 85% from previous models and will make procedures such as docking and close-quarters maneuvering much easier for boaters.
Saddle up to boat engines with the right horsepower
Picking an outboard engine with the right amount of horsepower for your boat involves more than checking a boat's capacity plate (for maximum horsepower rating) or referencing the manufacturer's price sheet to find the lowest-priced models. The best choice usually lies somewhere in the middle, taking both performance and cost into consideration. Generally speaking, if you exclude the smallest engines available and very upper tier, careful scrutiny reveals which engines offer the best bang for your buck.
Finding the sweet spot in engine pricing has a lot to do with boat type; some boats won't benefit much by additional horsepower. Take a twin-tube pontoon boat, for example. With a 90-hp 4-stroke engine it runs at 13.9 mph at 4,000 rpm (a typical cruising speed), while a less expensive 60-hp 4-stroke of the same make pushes it at 13 mph at 4,000 rpm. For a less than 1 mph difference, you can save money on the engine and at the gas pump.
Sterndrive-powered boats are another good example; the manufacturer of a popular 22-foot bowrider equipped with a 300-hp 350 MAG MPI engine estimates a top speed of 52- to 56 mph. The same boat with a 375-hp 496 MAG MPI is estimated to have a top speed of 54- to 59 mph, but costs thousands of dollars more. The best source of engine information can come from your boat dealer or boat manufacturer, but you have to ask for it. See if they have performance data with different engines — you’ll usually get solid information.